In the UFC echo chamber, words are weapons. If you say something long enough and loud enough, it becomes truth, regardless of merit.
Take, for example, the idea that Canadian Rory MacDonald is among the very best welterweights in the UFC.
Now, that may very well be true. Still just 24, MacDonald has shown a wide array of skills, both standing and on the ground. His terrifying, serial killer-esque persona sends shivers down the spine when you meet him in person. This is a man who would smash you to pieces and never once change expression. His complete lack of affect is scary to the extreme.
All of the above certainly makes MacDonald a very interesting prospect. I wouldn't reject the idea that he eventually reigns over his division like a savage king. It could be he really is that good.
But, conversely, the idea that he's one of the best in the world may turn out to be complete hogwash. Maybe he folds under pressure against a top striker? Perhaps he struggles against a solid American wrestler? Maybe, just maybe, he's a front-runner who fails to rise to the occasion when the going gets tough?
We simply don't know. It's a premise that's completely unsupported by the objective record.
Fact No. 1: Rory MacDonald is the No. 3 ranked welterweight in the world according to the UFC's esteemed media rankings.
Fact No. 2: Rory MacDonald has never beaten a top-10 welterweight.
The best matchmakers in combat sports, like the UFC's Joe Silva, have a gift for manipulating the public. Left without explanation, that's a harsh statement, a damning indictment of a sporting culture that awards glitz and glamor over accomplishment and record. A system that rewards potential, both economic and athletic, over success.
But where else but the UFC or boxing could an athlete advance to the top of his sport without testing himself against the best?
MacDonald has never fought a great wrestler. His one match against a solid striker, Carlos Condit, ended in a loss. The truth is, MacDonald's record is made up almost entirely of journeymen, lightweights like B.J. Penn and generalists.
He's never fought the best, so there's no way to extrapolate how he will perform against the best. His ranking, beneath only teammate Georges St-Pierre and Johny Hendricks, is completely a product of smoke and mirrors.
Is Rory Macdonald for real?
If you're answering, with either a yes or a no, you're wrong. We just don't know.
Against Jake Ellenberger this weekend, we'll finally see MacDonald against a fellow top-10 fighter. It's a chance to prove he's more than hype, more than just another protected prospect ripe for a hard fall.